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Method of making a web which is extensible in at least one direction
6896843 Method of making a web which is extensible in at least one direction
Patent Drawings:Drawing: 6896843-5    Drawing: 6896843-6    Drawing: 6896843-7    
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(3 images)

Inventor: Topolkaraev, et al.
Date Issued: May 24, 2005
Application: 10/232,057
Filed: August 30, 2002
Inventors: Graham; Matthew Joseph (North Canton, OH)
Shawver; Susan Elaine (Roswell, GA)
Topolkaraev; Vasily Aramovich (Appleton, WI)
Wideman; Gregory James (Menasha, WI)
Assignee: Kimberly-Clark Worldwide, Inc. (Neenah, WI)
Primary Examiner: Tentoni; Leo B.
Assistant Examiner:
Attorney Or Agent: Connelly; Thomas J.Charlier; Patricia A.
U.S. Class: 156/167; 156/181; 156/229; 264/103; 264/168; 264/171.1; 264/172.15; 264/210.1; 264/211.12; 264/211.14; 264/211.2; 264/342RE; 264/555
Field Of Search: 264/103; 264/168; 264/171.1; 264/172.15; 264/210.1; 264/211.12; 264/211.14; 264/211.2; 264/342RE; 264/555; 156/229; 156/167; 156/181
International Class:
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Abstract: A method includes the steps of co-extruding a first component and a second component. The first component has a recovery percentage R.sub.1 and the second component has a recovery percentage R.sub.2, wherein R.sub.1 is higher than R.sub.2. The first and second components are directed through a spin pack to form a plurality of continuous, molten fibers. The plurality of molten fibers is then routed through a quenching chamber to form a plurality of continuous cooled fibers. The plurality of continuous cooled fibers is then routed through a drawing unit to form a plurality of continuous, solid linear fibers. The linear fibers are then deposited onto a moving support, such ass a forming wire, to form an accumulation or fibers. The accumulation of fibers are stabilized and bonded to form a web. The web is then stretched by at least 50 percent in at least one direction before being allowed to relax. The relaxation of the web causes the fibers to acquire a 3-dimensional, coiled configuration which provides the web with extensibility in at least one direction.
Claim: We claim:

1. A method of forming fibers into a web, comprising the steps of: a) co-extruding a first and a second component, said first component having a recovery percentage R.sub.1 and saidsecond component having a recovery percentage R.sub.2, wherein R.sub.1 is higher than R.sub.2 ; b) directing said first and second components through a spin pack to form a plurality of continuous molten fibers each having a predetermined diameter; c)routing said plurality of molten fibers through a quench chamber to form a plurality of cooled fibers; d) routing said plurality of cooled fibers through a draw unit to form a plurality of linear fibers each having a smaller diameter than said moltenfibers; e) depositing said linear fibers onto a moving support to form an accumulation of fibers; f) stabilizing and bonding said fibers to form a web; g) stretching said web in at least one direction by at least 50 percent; and h) allowing saidstretched web to relax whereby said fibers acquire a 3-dimensional, coiled configuration which provides said web with extensibility in at least one direction.

2. The method of claim 1 wherein said fibers are bicomponent fibers.

3. The method of claim 2 wherein each of said bicomponent fibers has a core/sheath cross-sectional configuration.

4. The method of claim 3 wherein each of said bicomponent fibers in said core/sheath cross-sectional configuration are mechanically adhered to one another.

5. The method of claim 3 wherein each of said bicomponent fibers in said core/sheath cross-sectional configuration are chemically adhered to one another.

6. The method of claim 3 wherein each of said bicomponent fibers in said core/sheath cross-sectional configuration are physically adhered to one another.

7. The method of claim 1 wherein said web is a spunbond nonwoven web.

8. The method of claim 1 wherein said web has an elongation of up to about 400% in at least one direction.

9. The method of claim 1 wherein said first component has a volume percent in said web of from about 40% to about 80%.

10. A method of forming bicomponent fibers into a web, comprising the steps of: a) co-extruding a first and a second component, said first component having a recovery percentage R.sub.1 and said second component having a recovery percentageR.sub.2, wherein R.sub.1 is higher than R.sub.2 ; b) directing said first and second components through a spin pack at a first speed to form a plurality of continuous molten fibers each having a predetermined diameter; c) routing said plurality ofmolten fibers through a quench chamber to form a plurality of cooled fibers; d) routing said plurality of cooled fibers through a draw unit at a second speed, said second speed being greater than said first speed, to form a plurality of linear fiberseach having a smaller diameter than said molten fibers; e) depositing said linear fibers onto a moving support to form an accumulation of fibers; f) directing hot air onto said accumulation of fibers to form stabilized fibers; g) bonding saidstabilized fibers to form a web; h) stretching said web in both a machine direction and a cross direction by at least 50 percent; and i) allowing said stretched web to relax whereby said fibers acquire a 3-dimensional, coiled configuration whichprovides said web with extensibility in two directions.

11. The method of claim 10 wherein at least one bond per square inch is formed in said web.

12. The method of claim 10 wherein at least 30 bonds per square inch are formed in said web.

13. The method of claim 10 wherein said web is stretched from about 50 percent to about 500 percent.

14. The method of claim 10 wherein said web is stretched from about 50 percent to about 250 percent.

15. The method of claim 10 wherein each of said molten fibers has a predetermined diameter of from about 0.1 millimeter to about 2.0 millimeter.

16. The method of claim 10 wherein said web has an elongation of up to about 200% in at least one direction.

17. The method of claim 10 further comprising impinging said accumulation of fibers with a plurality of hot air streams to stabilize said fibers.

18. The method of claim 10 wherein said first component is an elastomaric material.

19. The method of claim 10 wherein said second component is polyolefin.

20. A method of forming bicomponent fibers into a web, comprising the steps of: a) co-extruding a first and a second component, said first component having a recovery percentage R.sub.1 and said second component having a recovery percentageR.sub.2, wherein R.sub.1 is higher than R.sub.2 ; b) directing said first and second components through a spin pack at a first speed to form a plurality of continuous molten fibers each having a predetermined diameter; c) routing said plurality ofmolten fibers through a quench chamber to form a plurality of cooled fibers; d) routing said plurality of cooled fibers through a draw unit at a second speed, said second speed being greater than said first speed, to form a plurality of linear fiberseach having a smaller diameter than said molten fibers; e) depositing said linear fibers onto a moving support to form an accumulation of fibers; f) directing hot air onto said accumulation of fibers to form a stabilized web; g) stretching saidstabilized web in at least one direction by at least 50 percent; h) allowing said stretched web to relax whereby said fibers acquire a 3-dimensional, coiled configuration; and i) bonding said stretched web to form a web having extensibility in at leastone direction.

21. The method of claim 20 wherein some of said stabilized web is stretched in two directions.

22. The method of claim 21 wherein said stabilized web is first stretched in a machine direction and then in a cross direction.

23. The method of claim 20 wherein at least one bond per square inch is formed in said web.

24. The method of claim 20 wherein at least 30 bonds per square inch are formed in said web.

25. The method of claim 17 wherein said web has an elongation of up to about 100% in at least one direction.

26. The method of claim 17 wherein said web has an elongation of up to about 400% in two directions.
Description: BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION

There are numerous methods known to those skilled in the art for spinning fibers that can be later formed into a nonwoven web. Many such nonwoven webs are useful in disposable absorbent articles for absorbing body fluids and/or excrement, suchas urine, fecal matter, menses, blood, perspiration, etc. Three dimensional fibers are also useful in forming materials that can be stretched in the machine direction, cross direction or in both directions to form webs that can be made into bodysidecovers, facings and liners. Manufacturers of such articles are always looking for new materials and ways to construct or use such new materials in their articles to make them more functional for the application they are designed to accomplish. Thecreation of a web of 3-dimensional, bicomponent fibers wherein the fibers are formed from at least one elastomeric material that can extend in at least one direction can be very beneficial. For example, an infant diaper containing an absorbent layerformed from cellulose pulp fibers interspersed into a web of 3-dimensional nonwoven fibers will allow the absorbent layer to retain a larger quantity of body fluid if the 3-dimensional fibers can expand. Such an absorbent layer can provide betterleakage protection for the wearer and may not have to be changed as often. In another example, a spunbond nonwoven facing or liner formed from a plurality of 3-dimensional fibers can provide improved stretch and controllable retraction. Such facings orliners can provide improved fit and better comfort for the wearer of absorbent articles.

A web formed from such 3-dimensional fibers can provide one or more of the following attributes: improved fit, improved loft, better comfort, greater void volume, softer feel, improved resiliency, better stretch and controlled retraction.

The exact method utilized in forming a nonwoven web can create unique properties and characteristics in the web. Now, a method of forming a web which is extensible in at least one direction has been invented and such a web is very desirable whenincorporated into a disposable absorbent article.

SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION

Briefly, this invention relates to a method of forming bicomponent fibers into a web. The method includes the steps of co-extruding a first and a second component. The first component has a recovery percentage R.sub.1 and the second componenthas a recovery percentage R.sub.2, wherein R.sub.1 is higher than R.sub.2. The first and second components are directed through a spin pack to form a plurality of continuous molten, bicomponent fibers each having a predetermined diameter. The pluralityof molten fibers is then routed through a quenching chamber to form a plurality of cooled fibers. The plurality of cooled fibers is then routed through a drawing unit to form a plurality of solid, linear fibers each having a smaller diameter than themolten fibers. The linear fibers are then deposited onto a moving support, such as a forming wire, to form an accumulation of fibers. The accumulation of fibers are stabilized and bonded to form a web. The web is then stretched by at least 50% ineither the machine direction, the cross direction or in both directions before the web is allowed to relax. The relaxation of the web allows the fibers to acquire a 3-dimensional, coiled configuration which provides the web with extensibility in atleast one direction.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS

FIG. 1 is a schematic showing a method of forming continuous, bicomponent linear fibers into a web which exhibits extensibility in at least one direction.

FIG. 2 is a cross-section of a bicomponent fiber.

FIG. 3 is a top view of a portion of a nonwoven mat formed from a plurality of continuous linear fibers that have accumulated on a moving support.

FIG. 4 is a top view of the nonwoven mat shown in FIG. 3 after the fibers have been subjected to jets of hot air to form a stabilized web.

FIG. 5 is a top view of the stabilized web shown in FIG. 5 after the fibers have been bonded to form a bonded web.

FIG. 6 is a side view of a helical fiber formed when the force used to stretch the bicomponent fiber is removed and the fiber is allowed to relax.

FIG. 7 is a top view of a portion of the web after the stretched fibers have been allowed to relax into coiled fibers.

FIG. 8 is a schematic showing an alternative method of forming continuous, bicomponent linear fibers into a web which exhibits extensibility in at least one direction.

DETAILED DESCRIPTION OF THE INVENTION

Referring to FIG. 1, a schematic of the equipment needed to practice the method of forming fibers into a web is depicted. The method includes the steps of co-extruding a first component 10 and a second component 12. The first and secondcomponents, 10 and 12 respectively, can be in the form of solid resin pellets or small particles. The first component 10 is positioned in a hopper 14 from which it can be metered and routed through a conduit 16 to a first extruder 18. Likewise, thesecond component 12 is positioned in a hopper 20 from which it can be metered and routed through a conduit 22 to a second extruder 24.

The first component 10 is a material that can be spun or otherwise formed into a continuous fiber. When the first component 10 is formed into a fiber, the fiber must be capable of being stretched and has a high recovery percentage R.sub.1. The"recovery percentage R.sub.1 " is defined as the percent the first component 10 can recover after it has been stretched at least 50% of its initial length and upon removal of the force applied to stretch it. Desirably, the first component 10 is anelastomeric material. Suitable elastomeric materials that can be used for the first component 10 include a melt extrudable thermoplastic elastomer such as a polyurethane elastomer, a copolyether ester, a polyether block polyamide copolymer, an ethylenevinyl acetate (EVA) elastomer, a styrenic block copolymer, an ether amide block copolymer, an olefinic elastomer, as well as other elastomers known to those skilled in the polymer art. Useful elastomeric resins include polyester polyurethane andpolyether polyurethane. Examples of two commercially available elastomeric resins are sold under the trade designations PN 3429-219 and PS 370-200 MORTHANE.RTM. polyurethanes. MORTHANE.RTM. is a registered trademark of Huntsman Polyurethanes havingan office in Chicago, Ill. 60606. Another suitable elastomeric material is ESTANE.RTM., a registered trademark of Noveon, Inc. having an office in Cleveland, Ohio 44141. Still another suitable elastomeric material is PEARLTHANE.RTM., a registeredtrademark of Merquinsa having an office in Boxford, Mass. 01921.

Three additional elastomeric materials include a polyether block polyamide copolymer which is commercially available in various grades under the trade designation PEBAX.RTM.. PEBAX.RTM. is a registered trademark of Atofina Chemicals, Inc. having an office in Birdsboro, Pa. 19508. A second elastomeric material is a copolyether-ester sold under the trade designation ARNITEL.RTM.. ARNITEL.RTM. is a registered trademark of DSM having an office at Het Overloon 1, NL-6411 TE Heerlen,Netherlands. The third elastomeric material is a copolyether-ester sold under the trade designation HYTREL.RTM.. HYTREL.RTM. is a registered trademark of E.I. DuPont de Nemours having an office in Wilmington, Del. 19898.

The first component 10 can also be formed from a styrenic block copolymer such as KRATON.RTM.. KRATON.RTM. is a registered trademark of Kraton Polymers having an office in Houston, Tex.

The first component 10 can further be formed from a biodegradable elastomeric material such as polyester aliphatic polyurethanes or polyhydroxyalkanoates. The first component 10 can be formed from an olefinic elastomeric material, such aselastomers and plastomers. One such plastomer is an ethylene-based resin or polymer sold under the trade designation AFFINITY.RTM.. AFFINITY.RTM. is a registered trademark of Dow Chemical Company having an office in Freeport, Tex. AFFINITY.RTM. resin is an elastomeric copolymer of ethylene and octene produced using Dow Chemical Company's INSITE.TM. constrained geometry catalyst technology. Another plastomer is sold under the trade designation EXACT.RTM. which includes single site catalyzedderived copolymers and terpolymers. EXACT.RTM. is a registered trademark of Exxon Mobil Corporation having an office at 5959 Las Colinas Boulevard, Irving, Tex. 75039-2298. Other suitable olefinic elastomers that can be used to form the firstcomponent 10 include polypropylene-derived elastomers.

The first component 10 can further be formed from a non-elastomeric thermoplastic material which has a sufficient recovery percentage R.sub.1 after it has been stretched at a specified temperature. Non-elastomeric materials useful in forming thefirst component 10 are extrudable thermoplastic polymers such as polyamides, nylons, polyesters, polyolefins or blends of polyolefins. For example, non-elastomeric, biodegradable polylactic acid can provide a sufficient recovery percentage R.sub.1 whenstretched above its glass transition temperature of about 62.degree. C.

The second component 12, like the first component 10, is a material that can be spun or otherwise formed into a continuous fiber. When the second component 12 is formed into a linear fiber, the linear fiber must be capable of being stretched andhas a recovery percentage R.sub.2, wherein R.sub.1 is higher than R.sub.2. The "recovery percentage R.sub.2 " is defined as the percent the component can recover after it has been stretched at least 50% of its initial length and upon removal of theforce applied to stretch it. When the first and second components, 10 and 12 respectively, are formed into a linear fiber, the fiber must be capable of retracting or contracting from a stretched condition in order for the linear fiber to be useful in anabsorbent article. As referred to herein, the term "retracting" means the same thing as "contracting". Desirably, the ratio of R.sub.1 /R.sub.2 ranges from at least about 2 to about 100. Most desirably, the ratio of R.sub.1 /R.sub.2 ranges from atleast about 2 to about 50. The reason for making R.sub.1 greater than R.sub.2 in a linear fiber is that upon retraction or contraction of the first and second components, 10 and 12 respectively, the 3-dimensional fiber will exhibit a very desirable,predetermined structural configuration. This structural configuration of the 3-dimensional fiber will display exceptional elongation properties in at least one direction.

The linear fiber further obtains some of its unique properties when the first component 10 makes up a volume percent of from about 30% to about 95% of the linear fiber and the second component 12 makes up a volume percent of from about 5% toabout 70% of the linear fiber. Desirably, the first component 10 makes up a volume percent from about 40% to about 80% of the linear fiber and the second component 12 makes up a volume percent of from about 20% to about 60% of the linear fiber. Thevolume of a solid linear fiber is calculated using the following formula:

where: V is the volume of the solid linear fiber;

p is a transcendental number, approximately 3.14159, representing the ratio of the circumference to the diameter of a circle and appearing as a constant in a wide range of mathematical problems;

d is the diameter of the linear fiber; and

L.sub.1 is the initial length of the linear fiber.

The above described ranges of volume percents for the first component 10 and for the second component 12 allow the linear fiber to be stretched at least 50% to form a stretched linear fiber. The volume percent of each of the first and secondcomponents, 10 and 12 respectively, also plays a vital role in the retraction or contraction of the stretched fiber to a retracted length. By varying the volume percent of each of the first and second components, 10 and 12 respectively, one canmanufacture a linear fiber that can be stretched and then retracted to a predetermined configuration and with certain desirable characteristics. At a later time, after such fibers are formed into a disposable absorbent article, the contact with a bodyfluid will cause the absorbent article to swell which will allow the fibers to elongate in at least one direction before the fiber becomes linear. As the fibers elongate, they can expand and allow the absorbent structure to receive and store additionalbody fluids.

The first and second components, 10 and 12 respectively, are chemically, mechanically and/or physically adhered or joined to one another to prevent the fiber from splitting when the fiber is stretched and then allowed to relax. The relaxed fiberwill retract in length. Desirably, the first component 10 will be strongly adhered to the second component 12. In the core/sheath arrangement, the mechanical adhesion between the first and second components, 10 and 12 respectively, will compliment anychemical and/or physical adhesion that is present and aid in preventing splitting or separation of the first component 10 from the second component 12. This splitting or separation occurs because one component is capable of retracting to a greaterextent than the other component. If a strong mutual adhesion is not present, especially during retraction, the two components can split apart and this is not desirable. In a fiber formed of two components arranged in a side by side or wedge shapeconfiguration, a strong chemical and/or physical adhesion will prevent the first component 10 from splitting or separating from the second component 12.

The second component 12 can be formed from polyolefins, such as polyethylene, polypropylene, a polyester or a polyether. The second component 12 can also be a polyolefin resin, such as a fiber grade polyethylene resin sold under the tradedesignation ASPUN.RTM. 6811A. ASPUN.RTM. is a registered trademark of Dow Chemical Company having an office in Midland, Mich. 48674. The second component 12 can also be a polyolefin resin, such as a homopolymer polypropylene such as Himont PF 304,and PF 308, available from Basell North America, Inc. having an office at Three Little Falls Centre, 2801 Centerville Road, Wilmington, Del. 19808. Another example of a polyolefin resin from which the second component 12 can be formed is polypropylenePP 3445 available from Exxon Mobil Corporation having an office at 5959 Las Colinas Boulevard, Irving, Tex. 75039-2298. Still other suitable polyolefinic materials that can be used for the second component 12 include random copolymers, such as a randomcopolymer containing propylene and ethylene. One such random copolymer is sold under the trade designation Exxon 9355, available from Exxon Mobil Corporation having an office at 5959 Las Colinas Boulevard, Irving, Tex. 75039-2298.

The second component 12 can also be formed from a melt extrudable thermoplastic material that provides sufficient permanent deformation upon stretching. Such materials include, but are not limited to, aliphatic and aromatic polyesters,polyethers, polyolefins such as polypropylene or polyethylene, blends or copolymers thereof, polyamides and nylons. The second component 12 can further be formed from biodegradable resins, such as aliphatic polyesters. One such aliphatic polyester ispolylactic acid (PLA). Other biodegradable resins include polycaprolactone, polybutylene succinate adipate and polybutylene succinate. Polybutylene succinate adipate and polybutylene succinate resins are sold under the trade designation BIONOLLE.RTM. which is a registered trademark of Showa High Polymers having a sales office in New York, N.Y. 10017. Additional biodegradable resins include copolyester resin sold under the trade designation EASTAR BIO.RTM.. EASTAR BIO.RTM. is a registeredtrademark of Eastman Chemical Company having an office in Kingsport, Tenn. 37662. Still other biodegradable resins that can be used for the second component 12 include polyhydroxyalkanoates (PHA) of varying composition and structure, and copolymers,blends and mixtures of the foregoing polymers. Specific examples of suitable biodegradable polymer resins include BIONOLLE.RTM. 1003, 1020, 3020 and 3001 resins commercially available from Itochu International. BIONOLLE.RTM. is a registered trademarkof Showa High Polymers having an office in New York, N.Y. 10017.

The second component 12 can also be formed from a water-soluble and swellable resin. Examples of such water-soluble and swellable resins include polyethylene oxide (PEO) and polyvinyl alcohol (PVOH). Grafted polyethylene oxide (gPEO) orchemically modified PEO can also be used. The water-soluble polymer can be blended with a biodegradable polymer to provide for better processing, performance, and interactions with liquids.

It should be noted that the PEO resin can be chemically modified by reactive extrusion, grafting, block polymerization or branching to improve its processability. The PEO resin can be modified by reactive extrusion or grafting as described inU.S. Pat. No. 6,172,177 issued to Wang et al. on Jan. 9, 2001.

Lastly, the second component 12 has a lower recovery percentage R.sub.2 than the first component 10. The second component 12 can be formed from a material that exhibits a low elastic recovery. Materials from which the second component 12 can beformed include, but are not limited to polyolefin resins, polypropylene, polyethylene, polyethylene oxide (PEO), polyvinyl alcohol (PVOH), polyester and polyether. The second component 12 can be treated or modified with hydrophilic or hydrophobicsurfactants. Treatment of the second component 12 with a hydrophilic surfactant will form a wettable surface for increasing interaction with a body fluid or liquid. For example, when the surface of the second component 12 is treated to be hydrophilic,it will become more wettable when contacted by a body fluid, especially urine. Treatment of the second component 12 with a hydrophobic surfactant will cause it to shed a body fluid or liquid.

Referring again to FIG. 1, the first and second components, 10 and 12 respectively, are separately co-extruded in the two extruders 18 and 24. The first and second extruders, 18 and 24 respectively, function in a manner that is well known tothose skilled in the extrusion art. In short, the solid resin pellets or small particles are heated up above their melting temperature and advanced along a path by a rotating auger. The first component 10 is routed through a conduit 26 while the secondcomponent 12 is simultaneously routed through a conduit 28 and both flow streams are directed into a spin pack 30. A melt pump, not shown, can be positioned across one or both of the conduits 26 and 28 to regulate volumetric distribution, if needed. The spin pack 30 is a device for making synthetic fibers. The spin pack 30 includes a bottom plate having a plurality of holes or openings through which the extruded material flows. The number of openings per square inch in the spin pack 30 can rangefrom about 5 to about 500 openings per square inch. Desirably, the number of openings per square inch in the spin pack 30 is from about 25 to about 250. More desirably, the number of openings per square inch in the spin pack 30 is from about 125 toabout 225. The size of each of the openings in the spin pack 30 can vary. A typical size opening can range from about 0.1 millimeter (mm) to about 2.0 mm in diameter. Desirably, the size of each of the openings in the spin pack 30 can range from about0.3 mm to about 1.0 mm in diameter. More desirably, the size of each of the openings in the spin pack 30 can range from about 0.4 mm to about 0.8 mm in diameter.

It should be noted that the openings in the spin pack 30 do not have to be round or circular in cross-section but can have a bilobal, trilobal, square, triangular, rectangular, oval or any other geometrical cross-sectional configuration that isdesired.

Referring to FIGS. 1 and 2, the first and second components, 10 and 12 respectively, are directed into the spin pack 30 and are routed through the openings formed in the bottom plate in such a fashion that the first component 10 will form a core32 while the second component 12 will form a sheath 34 which surrounds the outside circumference of the core 32. It should be noted that the first component 10 could form the sheath while the second component 12 could form the core, if desired. Thiscore/sheath arrangement produces one configuration of a linear, bicomponent fiber 36. Bicomponent fibers having other cross-sectional configurations can also be produced using the spin pack 30. For example, the bicomponent fiber can have a side by sideconfiguration or a core/sheath design where the core is offset coaxially from the sheath.

One bicomponent fiber 36 will be formed for each opening formed in the plate within the spin pack 30. This enables a plurality of continuous molten fibers 36, each having a predetermined diameter, to simultaneously exit the spin pack 30 at afirst speed. Each linear, bicomponent fiber 36 will be spaced apart and be separated from the adjacent fibers 36. The diameter of each bicomponent fiber 36 will be dictated by the size of the openings formed in the bottom plate of the spin pack 30. For example, as stated above, if the diameter of the holes or openings in the bottom plate range from about 0.1 mm to about 2.0 mm, then each of the molten fibers 36 can have a diameter which ranges from about 0.1 mm to about 2.0 mm. There is a tendencyfor the molten fibers 36 to sometimes swell in cross-sectional area once they exit the opening formed in the plate but this expansion is relatively small.

Referring again to FIG. 1, the plurality of continuous molten fibers 36 are routed through a quench chamber 38 to form a plurality of cooled linear fibers 40. Desirably, the molten fibers 36 are directed downward from the spin pack 30 into thequench chamber 38. The reason for directing the molten fibers 36 downward is that gravity can be used to assist in moving the molten fibers 36. In addition, the vertical downward movement can aid in keeping the fibers 36 separated from one another.

In the quench chamber 38, the continuous molten fibers 36 are contacted by one or more streams of air. Normally, the temperature of the continuous molten fibers 36 exiting the spin pack 30 and entering the quench chamber 38 will be in the rangeof from about 150.degree. C. to about 250.degree. C. The actual temperature of the molten fibers 36 will depend on the material from which they are constructed, the melting temperature of such material, the amount of heat applied during the extrusionprocess, as well as other factors. Within the quench chamber 38, the continuous molten fibers 36 are contacted and surrounded by lower temperature air. The temperature of the air can range from about 0.degree. C. to about 120.degree. C. Desirably,the air is cooled or chilled so as to quickly cool the molten fibers 36. However, for certain materials used to form the bicomponent fibers 36; it is advantageous to use ambient air or even heated air. However, for most elastomeric materials, the airis cooled or chilled to a temperature of from about 0.degree. C. to about 40.degree. C. More desirably, the air is cooled or chilled to a temperature of from about 15.degree. C. to about 30.degree. C. The lower temperature air can be directed towardthe molten fibers 36 at various angles but a horizontal or downward angle seems to work best. The velocity of the incoming air can be maintained or adjusted so as to efficiently cool the molten fibers 36.

The cooled or chilled air will cause the continuous molten fibers 36 to crystallize, assume a crystalline structure or phase separate and form a plurality of continuous cooled fibers 40. The cooled fibers 40 are still linear in configuration atthis time. Upon exiting the quench chamber 38, the temperature of the cooled fibers 40 can range from about 15.degree. C. to about 100.degree. C. Desirably, the temperature of the cooled fibers 40 will range from about 20.degree. C. to about80.degree. C. Most desirably, the temperature of the cooled fibers 40 will range from about 25.degree. C. to about 60.degree. C. The cooled fibers 40 will be at a temperature below the melting temperature of the first and second components, 10 and 12respectively, from which the fibers 40 were formed. The cooled fibers 40 may have a soft plastic consistency at this stage.

The plurality of continuous cooled fibers 40 are then routed to a draw unit 42. The draw unit 42 can be vertically located below the quenching chamber 38 so as to take advantage of gravity. The draw unit 42 should have sufficient height toprovide an adequate distance over which the cooled fibers 40 can be drawn. Drawing involves subjecting the cooled fibers 40 to pressurized air that will pull or draw the molten material exiting the spin pack 30 downward. The air pressure can range fromabout 3 pounds per square inch (psi) to about 100 psi. Desirably, the air pressure can range from about 4 psi to about 50 psi. More desirably, the air pressure can range from about 5 psi to about 20 psi. As in the quench chamber 38, the velocity ofthe pressurized air can be maintained or adjusted so as to efficiently draw the cooled fibers 40.

The pressurized air can be at ambient temperature of about 25.degree. C. or the pressurized air can be either hotter or colder depending upon one's preference. The cooled fibers 40 are drawn down mainly from the molten state and not from thecooled state. The downward force of the pressurized air in the draw unit 42 will cause the molten material to be lengthened and elongated into solid fibers 44. Lengthening of the molten material will usually shape, narrow, distort, or otherwise changethe cross-sectional area of the solid fibers 44. For example, if the molten material has a round or circular cross-sectional area upon exiting the spin pack 30, the outside diameter of the solid fibers 44 will be reduced. The amount that the diameterof the solid linear fibers 44 are reduced will depend upon several factors, including the amount the molten material is drawn, the distance over which the fibers are drawn, the pressure and temperature of the air used to draw the fibers, the spin linetension, etc. Desirably, the diameter of the solid linear fibers 44 will range from about 5 microns to about 100 microns. More desirably, the diameter of the solid linear fibers 44 will range from about 10 microns to about 50 microns. Most desirably,the diameter of the solid linear fibers 44 will range from about 10 microns to about 30 microns.

Within the draw unit 42, the cooled fibers 40 will be pulled at a second speed that is faster than the first speed displayed by the continuous molten fibers 36 exiting the spin pack 30. This change in speed between the continuous molten fibers36 and the continuous cooled fibers 40 enables the molten material to be lengthened and also to be reduced in cross-sectional area. Upon exiting the draw unit 42, the cooled fibers 40 will be solid fibers 44.

The solid, linear fibers 44 exiting the draw unit 42 are then deposited onto a moving support or forming surface 46. The moving support 46 can be a continuous forming wire or belt that is driven by a drive roll 48 while revolving about a guideroll 50. One or more guide rolls can be utilized if needed. Other types of moving supports known to those skilled in the art can also be utilized. The moving support 46 can be constructed as a fine, medium or coarse mesh having either no openings or aplurality of openings formed therein. For example, the moving support 46 can have a configuration similar to a standard window screen or it can be tightly woven to resemble a wire or felt used by the paper industry in the formation of paper. A vacuumchamber 52 can optionally be positioned below the moving support 46 to facilitate accumulation of the solid, linear fibers 44 onto the moving support 46.

Referring to FIGS. 1 and 3, the continuous linear fibers 44 accumulate on the moving support 46 in a random orientation and form a nonwoven mat 54. The nonwoven mat 54 is simply an accumulation of the continuous linear fibers 44 at this pointand does not contain any melt points or bonds which would stabilize the fibers 44 into a web. The thickness and basis weight of the mat 54 will be dictated by the speed of the moving support 46, the number and diameter of the continuous linear fibers 44deposited onto the moving support 46, as well as the speed at which the fibers 44 are being deposited onto the moving support 46. The nonwoven mat 54 is then routed under a hot air knife 56 that directs one or more jets or streams of hot air against themat 54. By "hot air" is meant air that it has been heated to a predetermined elevated temperature. The exact temperature used will be determined based on the material used to form the bicomponent fibers 44. The hot air should be of a sufficienttemperature to melt some of the fibers 44 at points where such fibers 44 contact, intersect or overlap adjacent fibers 44. The hot air causes some of the fibers 44 to melt and adhere to adjacent fibers 44 at a plurality of melt points 58.

The melt points 58 are bonds formed at the intersection of two or more continuous fibers 44. The number of melt points 58 formed can vary and will be determined by a number of factors: including the speed of the mat 54, the temperature of thehot air, the composition of the bicomponent fibers 44, the degree to which the continuous linear fibers 44 are entangled, the basis weight of the mat 54, etc. For example, one could form from about 10 to about 10,000 melt points per square inch. Thecontinuous linear fibers 44 adhered by the plurality of melt points 58 forms a stabilized web 60. Alternatively, compaction rolls can also be used to form a stabilized web. The web 60 can be an airlaid web, a coform web, a wet laid wet, etc.

Referring now to FIGS. 1 and 5, the stabilized web 60 is routed through a nip 62 formed by a bond roll 64 and a anvil roll 66. The bond roll 64 and the anvil roll 66 are typically heated to an elevated temperature. The bond roll 64 contains oneor more outwardly projecting nubs or protuberances 68. The nubs or protuberances 68 extend outward from the outer circumference of the bond roll 64 and are sized and shaped to create a plurality of bonds 70 in the stabilized web 60. Once the stabilizedweb 60 has the bonds 70 formed therein, it becomes a bonded web 72. The bond roll 64 and the anvil roll 66 can be rotated as the stabilized web 60 passes through the nip 62. The nubs or protuberances 68 will penetrate a predetermined depth into thestabilized web 60 and form the bonds 70. The bonded web 72 can be a spunbond nonwoven web. Spunbond is a nonwoven material made by extruding molten thermoplastics into fibers having a relatively small diameter. The exact number and location of thebonds 70 in the bonded web 72 will be dictated by the position and configuration of the nubs or protuberances 68 formed on the outer circumference of the bond roll 64. Desirably, at least one bond per square inch is formed in the bonded web 72. Moredesirably, from about 20 to about 500 bonds per square inch are formed in the bonded web 72. Most desirably, at least about 30 bonds per square inch are formed in the bonded web 72. Typically, the percent bonded area varies from about 10% to about 30%of the total area of the web 72.

Still referring to FIG. 1, the bonded web 72 is then stretched in at least one direction, and desirably, in two directions. For example, the bonded web 72 can be stretched in either the machine direction, the cross direction or in bothdirections. In FIG. 1, the bonded web 72 is routed to a nip 74 formed between a pair of rotating rolls 76 and 78. Each of the rolls 76 and 78 has a configured surface, 80 and 82 respectively. The configured surfaces 80 and 82 are sized and configuredto mate with one another and cause the bonded web 72 to be stretched in the machine direction as it advances through the nip 74. The bonded web 72 will be stretched in the machine direction into a lengthened web 84. Another option is to use a series ofrotating rolls to stretch the web in the machine direction. The rolls can be driven at different speeds, if desired.

This lengthened web 84 can then be routed through a nip 86 formed between a pair of rotating rolls 88 and 90. Each of the rolls 88 and 90 has a configured surface, 92 and 94 respectively. The configured surfaces 92 and 94 are sized andconfigured to mate with one another and cause the width or cross direction of the web 84 to be increased as it passes through the nip 86 into a wider web 96. It should be noted that other mechanisms known to those skilled in the art can be used tostretch the web in either one or two directions. One such option is to use grippers that attach to the side edges of the web and stretch the web in the cross direction. A second option is to use a tenter frame to stretch the web.

The stretching can occur at room temperature of approximately 25.degree. C. Desirably, the stretching can also occur at an elevated temperature in the range of from about 25.degree. C. to about 100.degree. C. More desirably, the stretching canoccur at an elevated temperature in the range of from about 50.degree. C. to about 90.degree. C.

Within the stretched wider web 96, some of the fibers 44 are stretched by at least 50% in at least one direction. By "stretched" it is meant that the continuous fibers 44 are lengthened or elongated while in the cooled or solid state. Thestretching is caused by axial tension exerted on the fibers 44. As the fibers 44 are stretched, the cross-sectional area of the fibers 44 will be reduced. Desirably, the amount of stretch imparted into some of the fibers 44 forming the web 96 can rangefrom about 50% to about 500%. More desirably, the amount of stretch imparted into some of the fibers 44 forming the web 96 can range from about 50% to about 250%. Most desirably, the amount of stretch imparted into some of the fibers 44 forming the web96 can range from about 75% to about 200%. It should be noted that a plurality of several pairs of mating rollers can be used to gradually increase the percentage of stretch in the web 96, if desired. As some of the fibers 44 are stretched, thethickness of the web 96 will be reduced. The thickness of the web 96 can range from about 2 mils to about 15 mils and the stretching will reduce this thickness.

The stretching will cause the cross-sectional area of some of the fibers 44 to be reduced from about 5% to about 90%. Desirably, the cross-sectional area of some of the fibers 44 are reduced from about 10% to about 60%. More desirably, thecross-sectional area of some of the fibers 44 are reduced from about 20% to about 50%. The stretched, bicomponent continuous fibers 44 will be relatively small in diameter or cross-sectional area. Desirably, the diameter of the stretched, continuousfibers 44 will range from about 5 microns to about 50 microns. More desirably, the diameter of the stretched fibers 44 will range from about 5 microns to about 30 microns. Most desirably, the diameter of the stretched fibers 44 will range from about 10microns to about 20 microns.

The continuous bicomponent fibers 44 should have a definite configuration before being stretched so that the stretched fibers exhibit the ability to retract or contract once the stretching force is removed. By "retract" it is meant the abilityto be shortened, take back, draw back or recover to an earlier state. The two words "retract" and "contract" are used interchangeably herein to describe this invention.

Referring to FIGS. 1 and 6, the stretched web 96 is allowed to relax after passing through the nip 86. This relaxation allows the stretched fibers 44 forming the web 96 to retract. This relaxation enables some of the fibers 44 to retract orcontract into a plurality of continuous 3-dimensional, bicomponent fibers 98. The thickness of the relaxed web 96 will be greater than the thickness of the bonded web 72. This increase in thickness will result in a higher loft web as well as a softerweb. In FIG. 6, a portion of a continuous 3-dimensional, bicomponent fiber 98 is depicted in the shape of a helix or helical coil that has a longitudinal central axis x--x. By "3-dimensional fiber" it is meant a fiber having an x, y and z component thatis formed by virtue of coils and/or curves regularly or irregularly spaced and whose extremities in the x, y and z planes form a locus of points which define a volume greater than a linear fiber. The continuous 3-dimensional fibers 98 will have agenerally helical configuration. The helical configuration can extend along the entire length L of each of the continuous 3-dimensional fibers 98 or it can occur over a portion of the continuous length of the 3-dimensional fibers 98. Desirably, thecoiled configuration extends over at least half of the length of each of the continuous 3-dimensional fibers 98. More desirably, the coiled configuration extends from about 50% to about 90% of the length of each of the continuous 3-dimensional fibers98. Most desirably, the coiled configuration extends from about 90% to about 100% of the length of each of the continuous 3-dimensional fibers 98. It should be noted that the coils can be formed in the clockwise or counterclockwise directions along atleast a potion of the length of the continuous 3-dimensional fibers 98. It should also be noted that the configuration of each coil can vary along the length of each of the continuous 3-dimensional fibers 98.

Within the web 96, at least some if not all of the fibers 98 will have a coil configuration with coils that circumscribes 360 degrees. The helical coils can be continuous or non-continuous over either a portion of or over the entire length ofthe continuous 3-dimensional fiber 98. Most desirably, the continuous 3-dimensional fibers 98 exhibit a continuous helical coil. The continuous 3-dimensional fiber 98 differs from a 2-dimensional fiber in that a 2-dimensional fiber has only twocomponents, for example, an "x" and a "y" component; an "x" and a "z" component, or a "y" and a "z" component. The continuous 3-dimensional fiber 98 has three components, an "x" component, a "y" component and a "z" component. Many crimp fibers are2-dimensional fibers that are flat and extend in only two directions. A crimped fiber is typically a fiber that has been pressed or pinched into small, regular folds or ridges. A crimped fiber usually has a bend along its length.

The continuous 3-dimensional fiber 98 has a non-linear configuration when it forms a helical coil. The continuous 3-dimensional fiber 98 also has an amplitude "A" that is measured perpendicular to a portion of its length L The amplitude "A" ofthe continuous 3-dimensional fiber 98 can range from about 10 microns to about 5,000 microns. Desirably, the amplitude "A" of the continuous 3-dimensional fiber 98 ranges from about 30 microns to about 1,000 microns. Most desirably, the amplitude "A"of the continuous 3-dimensional fiber 98 ranges from about 50 microns to about 500 microns. The continuous 3-dimensional fiber 98 further has a frequency "F" measured at two locations separated by 360 degrees between adjacent helical coils. Thefrequency "F" is used to denote the number of coils or curls formed in each inch of the coiled fiber length. The frequency "F" can range from about 10 to about 1,000 coils per inch. Desirably, the frequency "F" can range from about 50 to about 500coils per inch. It should be noted that the amplitude "A" and/or the frequency "F" can vary or remain constant along at least a portion of the length L, or over the entire length, of the continuous 3-dimensional fiber 98. Desirably, the amplitude "A"and the frequency "F" will remain constant over a majority of the length L. The amplitude "A" of the continuous 3-dimensional fiber 98 and the frequency "F" of the helical coils forming the continuous 3-dimensional fiber 98 affect the overall reductionin the length of the continuous 3-dimensional fiber 98 from it's stretched condition.

It should be noted that the deformation properties of the first and second components, 10 and 12 respectively, will affect the configuration and size of the helical coils developed as the stretched fibers retracts into the continuous3-dimensional fiber 98.

The continuous 3-dimensional fiber 98 is able to obtain a coiled configuration after being stretched due to the characteristics and properties of the first and second components, 10 and 12 respectively, from which it is formed. The first andsecond components, 10 and 12 respectively, are adhered together in the spin pack 30 to form a continuous bicomponent fiber 36. The first component 10 in the linear fiber 44 has an elongation of at least about 50% deformation. The first component 10 isable to recover at least about 20% of the stretch deformation imparted thereto, based on its length after deformation. Desirably, the first component 10 in the linear fiber 44 is able to recover at least about 50% of its stretch deformation. If thefirst component 10 has an elongation below at least about 50%, the recovery or relaxation power may not be sufficient to activate helical coiling of the 3-dimensional fiber 98. Repetitive helical coils in the retracted 3-dimensional fiber 98 are mostdesirable. A higher elongation than at least about 50% for the first component 10 is desirable. For example, an elongation of at least about 100% is good, an elongation exceeding 300% is better, and an elongation exceeding 400% is even better.

The second component 12 in the linear fiber 44 has a total deformation which includes a permanent unrecoverable deformation value and a recoverable deformation value. The permanent unrecoverable deformation value in a solid state, as a result ofstretching, plastic yielding and/or drawing, is at least about 40%. The recoverable deformation value is at least about 0.1%. A higher elongation than at least about 50% for the second component 12 is desirable. An elongation of at least about 100% isgood and an elongation exceeding about 300% is even better. Plastic yielding and drawing results in thinning of a second component 12. The second component 12 has a deformation up to about 700% or more when the linear fiber 44 is stretched in a solidstate. Stretching in a solid state means that the second component 12 is stretched below its melting temperature. If the total deformation of the second component 12 is below at least about 50%, the second component 12 will fail and break during thestretching process. Also, at low deformation, the second component 12 does not provide a sufficient level of permanent plastic yielding and thinning which is desired for the formation of the repetitive helical coils in the 3-dimensional fiber 98. Stretching should not occur at very low temperatures because the fibers may be brittle and could break. Likewise, the fibers should not be stretched very quickly because this might cause the fibers to break before reaching the desired percent ofelongation.

The percent elongation of the length of the continuous, 3-dimensional coiled fiber 98 is defined as the percent change in length by which the continuous, 3-dimensional coiled fiber 98 can be stretched before becoming straight or linear. Thepercent elongation can be expressed by the following formula:

where: % E is the percent elongation of the 3-dimensional fiber 98;

L is the retracted length of the 3-dimensional fiber 98; and

L.sub.1 is the final length of the 3-dimensional fiber 98 once it is stretched into a straight or uncoiled configuration.

The retracted 3-dimensional fiber 98 has the ability to be subsequently elongated to at least 100% of its retracted length. Most desirably, the retracted 3-dimensional fiber 98 can be subsequently elongated from about 150% to about 900% of itsretracted length. Even more desirably, the retracted 3-dimensional fiber 98 can be subsequently elongated from about 250% to about 500% of its retracted length. Still more desirably, the retracted 3-dimensional fiber 98 can be subsequently elongatedfrom about 300% to about 400% of its retracted length.

The continuous 3-dimensional fiber 98 exhibits exceptional elongation properties in at least one direction before the fiber becomes linear. Elongation is defined as the percent length by which the 3-dimensional fiber 98 can be stretched beforeit becomes straight or linear. The direction of the elongation property of the 3-dimensional fiber 98 is normally in the same direction as the linear fiber 44 was stretched. In other words, the direction that the retracted fiber 98 is able tosubsequently elongate will be opposite to the direction of its retraction. It is possible for the retracted fiber 98 to have elongation properties in two or more directions. For example, the retracted fiber 98 can subsequently be elongated in both thex and y directions.

The continuous 3-dimensional fibers 98 are obtained once the stretched web 96 is allowed to relax or retract. Some of the continuous 3-dimensional fibers 98 are able to acquire a helical profile by the difference in recovery percentage R.sub.1of the first component 10 compared to the recovery percentage R.sub.2 of the second component 12. For example, since the first component 10 has a higher recovery percentage R.sub.1 than the recovery percentage R.sub.2 of the second component 12, thefirst component 10 will want to retract to a greater degree than the second component 12. However, both the first and second components, 10 and 12 respectively, will retract or contract the same amount since they are physically, chemically ormechanically adhered or joined to one another. The combination of the volume percent and the recovery percent of the first and second components, 10 and 12 respectively, creates the unique 3-dimensional configuration of the fiber 98. The retraction orrecovery of the first and second components, 10 and 12 respectively, establishes the twist or coiling effect in the retracted fiber 98. The amount of coiling obtained, as well as the shape and location of the coiling, can be controlled by the selectionof materials that are used to construct the linear fiber 44. These three variables, the amount of coiling, the shape of the coiling and the location of the coiling, can also be controlled by the volume of each component, as well as the amount each ofthe linear fibers 44 are stretched. The time and temperature conditions under which the linear fibers 44 are stretched and allowed to retract can also affect the finish profile of the retracted fiber 98.

The first component 10 has a higher recovery percentage R.sub.1 than the recovery percentage R.sub.2 of the second component 12 and therefore the material from which the first component 10 is formed tends to be more tacky and elastic. For thisreason, the material with the higher recovery percentage R.sub.1 is used to form the inner core while the material having a lower recovery percentage R.sub.2 tends to be used to form the outer sheath. As the first and second components, 10 and 12respectively, try to retract from the stretched condition; the outer sheath will retract or contract less. This means that the first component 10 will not be able to retract fully to an amount that it could if it was by itself. This pent up forcecreates the twist or helical coil effect in the retracted fiber 98. By varying the materials used to form each of the linear fibers 44 and by controlling the conditions to which the linear fibers 44 are stretched and then retracted, one can manufactureuniquely configured 3-dimensional fibers that will subsequently elongate in a predetermined way. This characteristic has been identified as being extremely useful in constructing disposable absorbent articles. This characteristic may also exhibitbeneficial features in other articles as well.

The following Table 1 shows the recovery percent of individual materials that have been stretched to varying percentages. The material forming each sample was cut out from a thin sheet of a particular thickness in the shape of a dogbone ordumbbell. The dogbone shaped sample had an initial length of 63 millimeters (mm) measured from a first enlarged end to a second enlarged end. In between the two oppositely aligned, enlarged ends was a narrow section having a length of 18 mm and a widthof 3 mm. The material was then placed in a tensile tester and stretched at a rate of 5 inches per minute, in the machine direction of the material. This stretching caused the narrow section of the sample to elongate. The force used to stretch thesample was then removed and the sample was allowed to retract or recover. The retracted length of the narrow section, known as the finished recovery length, was measured and recorded as a percentage of the stretched length. One can extrapolate fromthis information that when such a material is combined with another material to form a linear fiber 44, those similar ranges of recovery or contraction can be experienced.

TABLE 1 50% 100% 200% 700% Thickness Stretch stretched stretched stretched stretched Material in mils Temp. C..degree. & recovered & recovered & recovered & recovered Polyurethane 5 25 24.5% 39.1% 54.4% -- Polypropylene 3 25 5.4% 5.5%5.1% -- Polypropylene 3 75 -- 8.7% 7.3% 6.4%

In Table 1, the dogbone shaped sample had a narrow section I.sub.1 located between its first and second enlarged ends. Each of the enlarged ends of the dog bone sample was secured in a tensile tester and a force was applied causing the materialto be stretched, in the machine direction of the material, a predetermined amount at a specific temperature. By stretching the sample, the narrow section is stretched to a length I.sub.2. The length I.sub.2 is greater than the initial length I.sub.1. The force exerted on the sample was then removed and the sample was allowed to retract such that the narrow section is shortened to a length I.sub.3. The retracted length I.sub.3 is smaller than the stretched length I.sub.2 but is greater than theinitial length I.sub.1. The recovery percent (R %) can be calculated using the following formula:

where: I.sub.2 is the stretched length of the narrow section of the sample; and

I.sub.3 is the retracted length of the narrow section of the sample.

Referring to FIG. 7, a portion of the web 96 is shown after the linear fibers 44 have been stretched and the fibers have relaxed into a coiled configuration. At this point, the web 96 of coiled fibers 98 is formed and is a stable web.

Returning again to FIG. 1, the web 96 formed from the plurality of 3-dimensional fibers 98 is routed to a take up roll 100 where it can accumulate into a large supply roll 102. When the supply roll 102 reaches a desired outside diameter, the web96 can be cut using a cutting knife 104 and a cooperating anvil 106. Other means for cutting or severing the web 96 at a desired time can also be utilized. Such cutting means are well known to those skilled in the art.

Referring now to FIG. 8, an alternative method of forming a web of coiled fibers 98 is depicted. The method is identical to that depicted in FIG. 1 up to the point where a stabilized web 60 is formed by the hot air knife 56. Because of this,the equipment utilized upstream of the draw unit 42 is not shown. After the stabilized web 60 is formed, it is routed to the through the nip 74 formed by the pair of roller 76 and 78. Here the stabilized web 60 is stretched in the machine direction toform a lengthened web 84. The lengthened web 84 is then routed through the nip 86 formed by the pair of roller 88 and 90 and is stretched in the cross direction. Upon leaving the nip 86, the stretched fibers forming the web 96 are allowed to relax. This relaxation causes some of the stretched fibers to retract and form coiled fibers 98. The resulting web 96 is made up of a plurality of the coiled fibers 98. The web 96 is routed through the nip 62 formed by the pair of rollers 64 and 66 whichforms a plurality of bonds 70 in the web 96 thereby establishing a bonded web 97. The bonded web 97 is then routed to a take up roll 100 where it can accumulate into a large supply roll 102. When the supply roll 102 reaches a desired outside diameter,the bonded web 97 can be cut using a cutting knife 104 and a cooperating anvil 106.

The webs 96 or 97, formed by either of the two methods described above, will have a number of unique properties. The webs 96 or 97 will be extensible in at least one direction, and desirably, in two directions. The webs 96 or 97 will alsoexhibit controlled retraction, high loft and greater void volume than a web formed from a plurality of non-stretched and then relaxed fibers. Lastly, the webs 96 or 97 will have a high degree of softness which is a very desirable property when the webmaterial is utilized as a bodyside cover on a disposable absorbent article.

The webs 96 or 97 can have an elongation of up to about 400% in at least one direction, the machine direction, the cross direction or they can have an elongation in both directions. Desirably, the webs 96 or 97 will have an elongation of up toabout 200% in the machine direction, the cross direction or in both directions. More desirably, the webs 96 or 97 will have an elongation of up to about 100% in the machine direction, the cross direction or in both directions. The webs 96 or 97 can beelongated and then the webs have the ability to retract to approximately their original length when the elongation force is removed.

It should be noted that the extensible webs 96 or 97 can be laminated to a stretchable material, an elastic film or elastic fibers to form a thin, non-absorbent material. This laminate material can be used as the bodyside cover or facing layeron a disposable absorbent article such as a diaper, training pant, incontinence garment, sanitary napkin, etc. This laminate material can also be used in health care products such as wound dressings, surgical gowns, gloves, etc.

While the invention has been described in conjunction with several specific embodiments, it is to be understood that many alternatives, modifications and variations will be apparent to those skilled in the art in light of the aforegoingdescription. Accordingly, this invention is intended to embrace all such alternatives, modifications and variations that fall within the spirit and scope of the appended claims.

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